PH, European Bloc to ink partnership

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The Philippines and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) are scheduled to sign a Joint Declaration on Cooperation (JDC) during the EFTA Ministerial Meeting scheduled in Iceland on 23 June 2014.

“Pursuing a strategic partnership with EFTA is one of the country’s priority trade engagements. Potential exports to EFTA could include products which we are already exporting to the European Union (EU) such as machinery, mineral compounds, medical instruments, and textiles and apparel. “We are also an ideal processing hub for food exporters like Iceland and Norway,” said Department of Trade and Industry Undersecretary Adrian Cristobal Jr.

The JDC seeks to expand trade relations through exchange of views and cooperation in the areas of, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, trade facilitation, intellectual property rights, public procurement, competition and trade and sustainable development.

It also aims to promote private sector cooperation and encourage business contacts.

The JDC likewise provides for the establishment of a joint committee allowing the parties to review the areas for cooperation and discuss other issues of mutual interest.

Since 2011, the Philippines and EFTA have been conducting a series of high-level and expert group meetings. Both sides agreed to work towards signing a JDC as an initial step to Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations.

EFTA is an inter-governmental organization for the promotion of free trade and economic integration to benefit its four Member states: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

In past years, many EFTA-based multinational companies have already set up several joint ventures in the Philippines in electrical equipment, chemicals, industrial machinery, mechanical/engineering industries and drugs/pharmaceuticals sectors.

Swiss companies in the Philippines include Nestle, Holcim, Novartis, and Roche. Switzerland is one of the top investors in the Philippines.

EFTA has free trade agreements covering 35 countries including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Central American States (Costa Rica and Panama), Chile, Colombia, Egypt, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Hong Kong-China, Israel, Jordan, South Korea, Lebanon, Macedonia, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Peru, Serbia, Singapore, member-states of Southern African Customs Union, Tunisia, Turkey, and Ukraine.

Ongoing FTA negotiations include Algeria, India, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia Belarus and Kazakhstan, Thailand and Vietnam.

EFTA has concluded Joint Declarations on Cooperation with 17 of its trading partners, including Malaysia, prior to starting or concluding an FTA.
In ASEAN, the Philippines is consistently ranked 6th with market shares not exceeding 10% among the import sources of EFTA within the region.

“Consultations with the relevant government agencies and the private sector are necessary if we are to pursue an FTA with EFTA. We need to take stock of our capacities as a country, identify non-tariff barriers, and further build our offensive interests,” said Cristobal.

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